Monsignor Dale Fushek, a dynamic, fiercely popular East Valley Catholic leader once eyed as the next Phoenix Diocese bishop, was arrested Monday on 10 charges of sexual misconduct with men and boys.
Fushek, 53, is the highest-ranking official in the Phoenix Diocese accused of sexual misbehavior. Under Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien, he held the No. 2 leadership role as vicar general.
He also is co-founder of Life Teen, the largest international Catholic program for youth, headquartered in Mesa. It reaches more than 125,000 young people in 950 parishes in 18 countries.
"This is like seeing Mary’s Jesus crucified," said Yvonne Gefroh, a parishioner of St. Timothy’s Catholic Community in Mesa, where Fushek served for more than 20 years. She and a couple of hundred others came to a special Mass at the church Monday night to pray for him. Some wore buttons reading, "I support Msgr. Dale."
At the Mass, a tearful priest said that in this day and age, people are guilty until proven innocent, and that was proven on the news Monday. He asked that at least one parishioner be in the church at all times to pray until the case is resolved. The congregation applauded.
"I’ve known him all my life and I defend him," said parishioner Adam Henricksen. "I challenge anyone who can look me in the eye and say this is true."
Fushek was indicted on three counts of assault, five counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and two counts of indecent exposure, all misdemeanors. If convicted of all, the priest faces three years and nine months in jail.
No bail was set for Fushek, but he will be on house arrest and must wear an ankle bracelet, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office spokesman Bill FitzGerald said. He will need permission from the court to go anywhere. A gate attendant at his Phoenix home said he was not taking visitors Monday night.
The alleged incidents happened on St. Timothy’s campus between 1984 and 1994. Fushek is accused of fondling the men and boys, walking around naked in front of youths, and of questioning them about their sexual experiences, saying it was part of confession.
According to the five-page indictment, Fushek invited a minor into his bed for kissing and snuggling, and another to join him in a hot tub. He rubbed a youth’s back even after he was told to stop, kissed a youth’s face and neck, and put his hands on a youth’s underwear line.
"It’s troubling anytime a person is in a position of public trust and is alleged to have violated that trust to prey upon vulnerable people, particularly younger people," Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas said.
Thomas said after reviewing the law and the facts, he was surprised to learn his office possessed only enough to charge Fushek with misdemeanors and not felonies.
"But in the end, I’m not a lawmaker — I’m a prosecutor. I’m left with the laws that are written by the Legislature," Thomas said. "Knowing that we had evidence of these crimes, I felt we needed to go forward and needed to charge this defendant, and hold him accountable."
Fushek’s attorney, Michael Manning, was vacationing out of the country and couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, his office said.
Fushek was arrested about 9:15 a.m. at his Phoenix home. At his initial appearance Monday afternoon, he was ordered to surrender his passport. Three priests from the diocese accused in unrelated sexual abuse cases are fugitives in Mexico, Ireland and the Vatican.
His arraignment was set for Dec. 6 at a justice court in Gilbert.
Thomas said the diocese has cooperated in the investigation.
"It is a striking contrast from the behavior of the prior bishop, and his regime of stonewalling and avoiding responsibility for the crimes committed on his watch," Thomas said, referring to O’Brien. O’Brien could not be reached for comment.
Thomas’ predecessor, Richard Romley, openly clashed with the diocese over sex abuse allegations when it was headed by O’Brien.
In 2003, O’Brien agreed to relinquish some power as part of a settlement to avoid prosecution on obstruction of justice charges in the priest abuse investigations. O’Brien resigned not long after when he was accused — and later convicted of leaving the scene of a fatal hit-and-run.
Fushek was put on a leave of absence Dec. 29, 2004, after William Cesolini named Fushek and others in a lawsuit alleging that he, at age 14, was molested in 1985 by the Rev. Mark Lehman, then a seminarian, while Fushek stood by and that Fushek later gave him alcohol. Fushek’s resignation from St. Timothy’s was effective June 30.
Michael Heran, attorney for the diocese, said Fushek remains on administrative leave from his diocesan duties and the diocese would cooperate with all civilian authorities "any way we can."
"Bishop (Thomas J.) Olmsted is praying for Monsignor Fushek, his family, those bringing charges against him and the people of St. Timothy’s parish," he said.
Along with his leadership at St. Timothy’s and with Life Teen, Fushek organized the papal Mass at Sun Devil Stadium in 1987 when Pope John Paul II visited the Valley. Seventeen months later, Fushek coordinated Mother Teresa’s visit to find a site for a Missionaries of Charity house and accompanied her in her search.
Fushek also was instrumental in overseeing construction of the Diocesan Pastoral Center in downtown Phoenix four years ago.
His leadership was further rewarded when O’Brien elevated him to a vicar general post and then the honorary title of monsignor. Fushek has written four books, including "The Mass Never Ends," "Dear Father Dale,’ and "Your One Stop Guide to the Mass."
1952 - Born in Cleveland, Ohio, but raised in Phoenix.
1970 - Graduated from Central High School, Phoenix.
1978- Master of divinity degree, St. John‘s Seminary, Camarillo, Calif.; ordained priest May 13.
1978-81 - Associate pastor, St. Jerome Parish, Phoenix.
1984 - Master of theology/liturgy, University of Notre Dame.
1985 - Named pastor of St. Timothy’s Catholic Community, Mesa
1985 - Co-founded Life Teen Program with Phil Baniewicz, and served as president and CEO
1987- Coordinated Mass of Pope John Paul II at Sun Devil Stadium.
1989 - Coordinated Valley visit of Mother Teresa.
1990 - Given Pope Paul VI Award for Evangelization.
2000 - Named vicar general of the Diocese of Phoenix.
2002 - Granted honorary ecclesiastical title of monsignor.
Dec. 29, 2004 - Fushek put on administrative leave from parish and diocesan duties after William Cesolini, claiming repressed memories, brought complaints of sexual improprieties by Fushek and others in 1985.
Jan. 27, 2005 -- Cesolini names Fushek and diocese defendants in civil lawsuit claiming Fushek facilitated in a sexial attack on him by seminarian Mark Lehman, while Cesolini was age 14 and gave the boy alcohol.
April 2, 2005 - Fushek resigns, effective June 30, saying he wanted to protect St. Timothy’s parisioners from the "ordeal."
Nov. 21, 2005 -- Fushek is arrested for 10 misdemeanor counts, including assault, indecent exposure and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.